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The St. Simons endeavor
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As I crept into the lion’s den among the public officials, they collectively eyed me down, while I cautiously stepped toward them.
I wondered what they were thinking. Does this Yankee have a tape recorder? Is he trying to expose me? Did he secretly attach GPS tracers to all of us to track our every move?
I suppose no one will ever know.
The workshop commenced though, and we all sat down for an appetizing lunch provided by the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort. The atmosphere of the resort was picturesque, and if you have the time, I suggest you visit.
There was a brief introduction, and the group then broke into five focus groups to explore eight key issues, which included: cultural and historic resources, economic development, facilities and services, housing, intergovernmental coordination, land use, natural resources and transportation.
Initially, I sat in with the focus group consisting of people like county Chairman John McIver, Hinesville Mayor Tom Ratcliffe and assistant superintendent Dr. Cheryl Connley.
Admittedly, the first 15 minutes went slowly as Ratcliffe recounted the area’s heritage and said how important it was, and naturally, the subject abruptly closed.
They switched to education and Ratcliffe thought “a good portion of the seniors and some of the juniors were bored and unchallenged.” Honestly, he made perfect sense as Liberty County has a 30 percent high school dropout rate, a high teen pregnancy rate and concerns loom over drug abuse and gang activity.
After Ratcliffe’s remarks, Connley said how the goal might be to switch somewhat from academics to vocational classes to appeal to the working class, and to involve the students more.
Yet while the Georgia school system is 48th in the nation, it may be wise to focus on why the system is so fractured in the first place. I don’t blame Connley, but education seemed to be glossed over just like heritage, intergovernmental coordination, land use and natural resources.
The importance of Old Sunbury Road came up several times, but everyone neglected to mention how the Liberty County Development Authority built a Target on top of part if it.
Seemingly, this was the trend at the workshop. The importance of one issue would be discussed, but another would quickly arise to trump it.
Land use, natural resources and the environment were key topics until development would come up and snuff it out. Clearly, development is crucial to this growing community, but to what end?
The subdivisions they are building, such as Yellow Bluff, are impressive, but the development up and down 84 looks lumped together, concretely cold and the sprawling impervious parking lots do not give way to much green space.
The county does have the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, and it has done a good job with development.
“The land I own and the land I deal with is neither my land nor is it the present owner’s. It is our son and daughter’s land, or the land of future residents. We can’t compromise all of our green space, and I want this place to retain it’s present look 40 years down the road,” LCPC Commissioner Don Hartley said.
The main concern now should be commercial development in the downtown Hinesville area, as the ambiance of the district could best be described as dilapidated and dull.
“Now that we have made 500 new jobs out at Target, we must shift our focus from industrial to commercial development. We need to revive Hinesville,” Chairman McIver said.
In essence, the workshop was a worthwhile time. I met a lot of new people who are concerned about the community. I even think the retreat to the resort is a good idea, but it should be facilitated differently in order for the city officials to arrive at more decisions to expedite the progression of the county.
Overall, they were genteel, amicable and were easily available for comments and feedback. They are a decent group of elected officials, but let’s all keep an eye on them to ensure their interests align with yours.
For more information about what our officials are doing, refer to my transportation and downtown development articles in Wednesday’s paper.
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